Departing Clifford Chance Applied Solutions CEO Jeroen Plink talks legal futures

Interest in Clifford Chance Applied Solutions tools is “up massively”, Plink says. “In the last few weeks before I left, we signed up more new customers for Clifford Chance Dr@ft than we had in the entire year before.”

Jeroen Plink, the technology entrepreneur hired by Clifford Chance towards the end of 2018 to run its technology arm Applied Solutions, is leaving the firm and looking at how he can apply his entrepreneurial background to other opportunities in the legal sector, including the A2J space.

Jeroen, who was a lawyer at Clifford Chance before the turn of the century, spoke to Legal IT Insider editor Caroline Hill about CCAS and his future plans.

Jeroen, it’s still relatively early days for you at Applied Solutions, why are you leaving Clifford Chance?

I have really enjoyed building the team and the initial products. But in terms of taking CCAS to the next phase, I’m too restless for that and I want to start out on my own again.

We’re leaving on very good terms. I have the greatest respect for the firm and for Matthew [Layton] and Bas Boris [Visser]. It’s a great firm and there’s a reason I boomeranged back into Clifford Chance.

The firm is on a steep trajectory and the people are good people. When I joined, someone asked me ‘Why the hell did you join a law firm?’ I said that there are three reasons. One, the people are fundamentally good people. Two, the vision for innovation in Clifford Chance is strong. And three, as I said to Matthew in my farewell note, every time I went into a meeting with one of the firm’s lawyers, it felt like you’re in the room with the sharpest legal minds: I understand why it is a top-notch firm. All three are true but I’m off to the next stage in my career.

So, what are your plans now?

The most likely thing I’ll be doing is a bunch of consulting gigs in the legal tech space. There are already a few companies, firms and investors who are seeking my advice. I am talking to a few private equity funds with regard to deals in the space. Longer term I want to address the access to justice problem in the US, where it’s a major problem. Every year the average household has five unsolved problems. On the flipside you have hundreds of thousands of solo lawyers operating at or near poverty levels and barely making ends meet. It’s really tough. There must be a way of tying the two up and I’d love to explore that.

What milestones have you achieved at CCAS?

CCAS is in really good shape. COVID put a pause on certain parts of the work we were doing but in the last few months, interest for the tools that help in-house counsel be more efficient have increased massively. In the last few weeks before I left, we signed up more new customers for CCDr@ft then we had in the entire year before. We’re also getting requests for automation of other processes and some of our cross-border products are getting more attention than ever before. It feels like people have slowly but surely resurfaced.

People were fire-fighting last year and dealing with Covid and certain projects like the Senior Manager Certification Regime got dropped but if you’re in financial services, you have to act and Clifford Chance Applied Solutions SMCR Manager is the only true application that helps companies comply with the certification regime, failing a bunch of spreadsheets. CCAS’ tool helps you comply with those certifications and provides relevant checklists to give you the deadlines and reminders.

What should firms be thinking about now to future-proof themselves?

Setting up an independent venture such as Clifford Chance Applied Solutions is a critical element of long term survival. If you look at the innovation horizon there are three things there are three things you need to do. One, is that you have to get your act together: work better by using technology, processes and people. That should be take up 70% of your time and investment. The second is to identify new sustainable forms of revenue. This is where Clifford Chance Applied Solutions comes in: what can you do that means more recurring revenue and in my opinion, that is absolutely the future. If you’re not working on, for example, creating additional revenue streams, you’re going to have a hard time surviving. The third and the remaining 5% of your time should be spent asking ‘what is the model that is going to interrupt the existing model?’ No-one has found it yet, but it will come. Do yout research. That is partially what the remit of Clifford Chance Create is about. What is going to be the model that kills the existing model as we know it?